Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

21 questions I asked myself during this movie:

1. Who’s going to get shot? Every man in the movie is wearing a gun. There are no bad guys, no violence, no threats of violence. Sure, they’re down there in lawless Peru, but nowhere do guns figure in the action. Yet it’s inconceivable that they’ll get through the movie without somebody shooting somebody. A: Somebody got shot.

2. Say, this being a ’30s movie, will the characters in it begin a lot of sentences with “Say”? A: Say, yes!

3. Why do I like black-and-white movies? I remember thinking, during, for example, Dead Man, and Manhattan, and this movie, how glad I was that they weren’t in color. Color would have diminished them. But I don’t watch color movies wishing that they were in black-and-white. What gives? A: I don’t know, but I do know that cigarette smoke is much cooler, and much more dramatic, in black-and-white.

4. How wrong can Hawks go with the one black guy he puts in the movie? A: Very wrong. This being 1939, Charles R. Moore must have drifted over from Gone With the Wind, where he was playing Butterfly McQueen’s brother.

5. A plane full of nitro and a flock of condors below – what to do? A: Drop the nitro on them. “That ought to move ’em!”

6. That boat coming into port – familiar? A: I just watched King Kong. Those ’30s movies were great with the boats in the harbor mist.

7. How have line readings changed since the ’30s? Turning on English subtitles calls attention to line readings and one current vogue has the actor pausing before ending a sentence. Think Michael Emerson in Lost: “You’re going to have to kill me… John.” A: Next ’30s movie, I’ll pay attention to this.

8. Kid Dabb says, “I’ve been doing this 22 years.” Is that a big deal? A: Not when you’re my age.

9. You know somebody is going to get killed. Can you guess who? A: I couldn’t. It had nothing to do with the guns.

10. McPherson lands a plane on a short runway that ends at a cliff. Why is this familiar to me? A: Similar to landing in Los Alamos on a DC3. Except that the runway in Los Alamos is not on Barranca Mesa, but one mesa over from there (the movie is set in Barranca).

11. Can it be that for once a crashed plane on fire won’t blow up? A: Wow. It’s not blowing up. It’s just burning, not bl… Oops, there it goes.

12. Does Jean Arthur have twice the normal number of teeth? A: I need to go back, pause the movie, and count them.

13. Who wrote this? I wondered, because of the bananas in the Andes. Peru joined the banana market only recently. I’m thinking that the writer assumed that any country south of Mexico is a banana republic. But wait, the NYT reviewer back in 1939 thought that the movie was set in Equador, which does export bananas. Peru or Equador, which is it? A: Howard Hawks himself wrote the story. The Corvallis-Benton County Public Library has a copy of “Plane From Barranca.” Maybe I should call up there, and ask the librarian to take the book off the shelf and read the first few pages of it to me, to see if Hawks specifies a country.

14. Is Dimitri Tiomkin going to drive me crazy again, like he did in The Fall of the Roman Empire? A: No. His score is absolutely unobtrusive.

15. Does Grant say “Judy, Judy, Judy…”? A: No.

16. The movie was filmed in Hollywood but what about those tropical airplane sequences (not with the obvious little model, but the other ones)? A: Don’t know how they were done, but the picture was nominated for the first-ever Special Effects Oscar. Didn’t win it, and neither did GWTW or The Wizard of Oz. The Rains Came won it; now I want to see those rains; must have been really something.

17. Pilot wears a white shirt and tie, leather jacket, and snap-brim fedora – cool or not cool? A: Hayworth went for it. Whereas Cary Grant’s Panama was just plain silly.

18. Jean Arthur or Rita Hayworth? Arthur is the romantic lead and Cary Grant tells her that she and Hayworth, his former girlfriend or ex, I forget which, are very much alike. Perhaps so, but there are a couple of big differences, which are obvious from the start. A: I’ll take Arthur. Maybe Grant could handle Hayworth, but I couldn’t.

19. Is Arthur quite a bit shorter than Grant, or not? A: She = 5′ 3″ He = 6′ 1.5″ The difference is only apparent every so often. Richard Barthelmess, on the other hand, looked shorter than Arthur and he = 5′ 8″.

20. Kid and Bat, the deadly adversaries – are they going to end up in a deadly situation that recapitulates their antagonistic backstory? A: Three guesses, and the first two don’t count (that expression was fresh in the ’30s; now, 23,800,000 Google hits.) A line in the movie that I was surprised to hear: “I’ve always preferred a bath to a shower.” Somehow I don’t picture a lot of showers in the ’30s.

21. Are these guys all supposed to be angels, because they’re pilots flying dangerous missions? Is that the message of the movie, encapsulated in its title? A: Yes. They are manly men, by God, and Howard Hawks wants you to know it.

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